Weekly Head Voices #115: So much Dutch.

Monday January 16 to Sunday January 29 of the year 2017 yielded the following possibly mention-worthy tidbits:

On Saturday, January 21, we had the privilege of seeing Herman van Veen perform live at the Oude Libertas Theatre. The previous time was a magical night many years ago in the Royal Theatre Carré in Amsterdam.

Herman van Veen is a living, extremely active and up to date legend. To most Dutch people you’ll ever meet he is a formidable part of their rich cultural landscape.

That evening, we heard so much Dutch spoken in the audience around us, it was easy to imagine that we had been teleported to a strange midsummer night’s performance, all the way back in The Netherlands.

Whatever the case may be, at 72 this artist and superb human being seems to have energy and magic flowing from every limb.

Things which running nerds might find interesting

The Dutch Watch

I had to start facing facts.

The Samsung Gear Fit 2 and I were not going to make a success of our relationship. The GF2 (haha) is great if you’re looking for a hybrid smart-fitness-watch. However, I was using it primarily for running, and then one tends to run (I’m on a roll here) into its limitations.

My inner engineer, the same guy who has a thing for hiking shoes, as they are the couture epitome of function over form, made the call and selected the TomTom Runner 3 Cardio+Music watch (the Runner 3 and the Spark 3 are identical except for styling) to replace my GF2.

Hidden in the name, there’s a subtle hint as to the focus of this wearable.

It has a less pretty monochrome display that manages to be highly visible even in direct sunlight. It does not have a touch screen, instead opting for a less pretty directional control beneath the screen that always manages to select the correct menu option. The menu options remind me of the first TomTom car navigation we bought years ago: Not pretty, but with exactly the right functions, in this case for runs and hikes.

Most importantly, the watch has an explicit function for syncing so-called QuickGPSFix data, so that when you want to start running, it is able to acquire a GPS lock almost immediately. Importantly, the device keeps you informed of its progress via the ugly user interface.

Also, I am now able to pre-load GPX routes. Below you can see me navigating my local mountain like a pro with a sense of direction, when in reality I am an amateur with pathological absence of sense of direction:

That’s me in the corner, losing my Re-Samsung.

Anyways, after being initially quite happy with the GF2, I am now more careful with my first judgement of the Runner 3. What I can say is that the first 40km with it on my arm has been a delight of function-over-form.

P.S. Well done Dutchies. The optical heart rate sensor in the previous Spark was based on technology by South African company LifeQ. I have not been able to find a good reference for the situation in the Spark 3 / Runner 3.

Experiment Alcohol Zero early results: Not what  I was hoping

The completely subjective Experiment Alcohol Zero (EAZ) I announced in my 2016 to 2017 transition post has almost run (err… too soon?) to completion.

November of 2016 was my best running month of that year: I clocked in at 80km.

EAZ started on January 4 and will conclude probably on Friday February 3.

Although I was a much more boring person in January of 2017, I did manage to run 110 km. The runs were all longer and substantially faster than my best runs of 2016.

Subjectively, there was just always energy (and the will) available to go running, and subjectively there was more energy available during the runs. This is probably for a large part due to the vicious upward spiral of better glucose processing, better sleep, hence better exercise, rinse, repeat.

I am planning to use some of this extra energy to sweep these results right under the proverbial carpet in order to try and limit the suffering that it might lead to.

(Seriously speaking, I will have to apply these findings to my pre-EAZ habits in a reasonable fashion. :)

Things which Linux nerds might find interesting

My whole web-empire, including this blog, my serious nerd business blog, and a number of websites I host for friends and family, has been migrated by the wonderful webfaction support to a new much faster shared server in London.

The new server sports 32 Intel Xeon cores, is SSD based and has a newer Linux distribution, so I was able to move over all of my wordpress instances to PHP 7.

Upshot: This blog might feel microscopically quicker! (I am a bit worried with my empire now being stuck in the heart of Article 50. I worry slightly more about a great deal of my data that lives on servers in the USA however. Probably more about that in a future post.)

On the topic of going around the bend, I now have emacs running on my phone, and I’m able to access all of my orgmode notes from there. It looks like this:

One might now ask a pertinent question like: “So Charl, how often do you make use of this wonderful functionality?”

To which I would currently have to answer: “Including showing the screenshot on my blog? Once.”

I’m convinced that it’s going to come in handy at some point.

Things which backyard philosophy nerds might find interesting

With what’s happening in the US at the moment, which is actually just one nasty infestation of the political climate around the globe, I really appreciate coming across more positive messages with advice on how we can move forward as a human race in spite of the efforts of the (libertarian) right.

The World Economic Forum’s Inclusive Growth and Development Report 2017 is one such message. As summarised in this WEF blog post, it tries to answer the question:

How can we increase not just GDP but the extent to which this top-line performance of a country cascades down to benefit society as a whole?

In other words, they present approaches for making our economies more inclusive, thus helping to mitigate the huge gap between rich and poor.

According to the report, the answer entails that national and international economic policies should focus primarily on people and living standards. In order to do this, each country will have to work on a different mix of education, infrastructure, ethics, investment, entrepreneurship and social protection.

The countries that are currently doing the best in terms of having inclusive economies, and are generally shining examples of socialism working extremely well thank you very much, are Norway, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Iceland, Denmark, Sweden, Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand and Austria. See the blog post for the specific different factors helping each of these countries to perform so well on the Inclusive Development Index (IDI).

Although the countries in the top 10 list all still have room for improvement, it’s great to see that it is actually quite a great idea to combine socialism (which is actually just another word for being further along the human development dimension) with economic survival and even success in today’s world.

(I am still hopeful that one day Gene Roddenberry’s dream of the United Federation of Planets will be realised.

LLAP!)

 

Microblog posts will NOT email subscribers anymore

One of my three subscribers was understandably less than happy about receiving email for every microblog-style post here.

Using the Code Snippets plugin and the jetpack subscriptions exclude categories filter, I have now configured the blog so that in theory it should not mail subscribers when I post in the microblog category.

In short: Email subscribers won’t receive any microblog post emails. I hope this helps!

Let’s replace Twitter with something much better.

(There is also a Russian language version of this post available, translated and published by SoftDroid on 2017-04-12.)

I love Twitter.

I love that by following certain people, my timeline has become a stream of interesting and entertaining information. I love that sometimes I am able to fit my little publication just so into the 140 characters given to me. I found The Trumpocalypse truly depressing, but the joke tweets were golden:

2016-11-19-112633_665x359_scrot

I love that Twitter is so widely accessible and utilised. For example here in South Africa, if you make a small effort, you can get great, grassroots-level inputs from all corners of our political spectrum. This has helped me tremendously to try and understand our complicated environment a little better.

However…

I really don’t like that we are all putting our content, including those golden joke tweets, into someone else’s silo. You’re giving Twitter full control over all of your content. That’s a huge price to pay for the exposure, especially in the light of the fact that there are user-controlled alternatives.

Also, with Twitter’s commercial survival often being debated, can we really trust this budding public service (it has become that central) with our public history?

Far more importantly, Twitter is doing a really bad job at keeping abusive users and abuse out of the system. Users have very little power against abusive groups. There have been a great number of cases when users were forced to leave Twitter, in effect being muzzled, due to direct and concerted abuse.

This can’t be right.

Could we replace Twitter with something better?

Yes, I think we can.

Blogs and RSS, the latter a system for subscribing to a collection of blogs, and being able to read their posts in a single chronological stream, almost exactly like Twitter, have been around forever.

Setting up a blog at for example WordPress.com is not much more complicated than creating a new Twitter account. Readers can subscribe to your blog using any number of apps, for example the WordPress.com Reader or any other so-called aggregator, such as Inoreader or Feedly. Your list of subscriptions can be freely exported from one aggregator and imported into another.

Instead of posting your 140 character masterpiece via the Twitter app, you would do so via the WordPress app. You can write short tweets, or long essays, with as much embedded media and with as much typesetting as you like.

By default, you have to moderate (approve or deny) comments on any of your posts. Bye-bye abusive users. In fact, you’re able to muzzle them, which is how it should be. This is your content and your voice after all. However, they are also free to start their own blogs of course. Everyone else is free never to go there.

Furthermore, your content can be easily exported into a self-hosted blog (using the open source wordpress.org software), such as this one, where you truly control the whole system. In all cases, the content is yours to do with as you please.

What needs to happen?

It looks like all the components of the solution have been right here all along.

However, to become as accessible as Twitter, they definitely require some polish (this used to be “a little polish”, but commenter AJ made valid points) .

If for example the WordPress app became as straight-forward as the Twitter app, for setting up a new blog, for posting and for reading all of your followed blogs, that would be great.

If the WordPress app, or any alternative, could come up with a streamlined user story for the posting of short (approximately 140 characters maybe?! :) snippets, that would be even better. (If you did not know about post formats yet, check them out. For exmample, the “aside” post format is a way to post a short title-less snippet to your blog.)

Furthermore, we definitely need a good discovery platform. This is the thing where Twitter will recommend new accounts to follow based on your existing subscriptions. WordPress does something similar, but it has to be much more discoverable.

In the coming weeks, I will be running a little experiment by trying to post even my short, previously twitter-only blurbs to this blog. I will have to cross-tweet these, but at least the primary source will be right here in my own database.

What do you think? Is this possible? Is it something you would like?

Taxing but fun. [Weekly Head Voices #43]

With every edition I claim that I have no time to post, but this time, I have even less time than usual. However, here I am to bring you a super-duper compact time-saving edition of the Weekly Head Voices, filled with the highlights of week 12 of 2011. I’ll start this edition with some church:

Pretty spring photo of the back of the New Church in Delft, taken whilst I was waiting for my guest (Our Man in Vienna, temporarily in Delft!) to exit his hotel.
  • I’ve tried to give you a more snappy blog loading experience by installing the WP Super Cache (with a 24 hour site preload), DB Cache Reloaded Fix and Use Google Libraries plugins. In many cases, you’ll get served a static HTML page, which is much faster than the on-demand SQL-spewing PHP-generated complexity WordPress usually does. In the great big quagmire that is WordPress caching plugins, this combination seems to be working best in my case. Measuring with tools.pingdom.org (awesome resource!), most of the pages on this site should now fully render in around 2 seconds.
  • The TNR and I souped up the work website, it’s looking really spiffy now, with embedded RSS feeds and all!
  • I’ve finally installed JuiceDefender on my laptop with built-in telephone (my HTC Desire Z smartphone, in other words), the battery almost lasts the whole day now! If you have an Android telephone and your not happy with your battery life (err, is that even a question?), get this app. Now.
  • I opposed an M.Sc. defence on Tuesday on the ultrasound measurement of tendon displacement in vivo and subsequent derivation of moment arms. Great fun diving into new work like that! The student did a great job.
  • Our Man in Vienna came to visit us in Delft. Huge fun was had by me and Our Man in Vienna (I hope), and serious work was done. It’s a great combination, we will attempt to apply it more often.
  • On Friday evening I slipped and did our yearly tax return by accident. BAM!

This is the end my friend. Here’s some more church (a different one, at least), taken after a scrumptious dinner in the city:

The Old Church in Delft, with pretty lighting. This is not a simulation.

Have a great week everyone! Over here, we’ll be chasing deadlines, and many of ’em. WATCH OUT YOU DEADLINES!

Facebook Like, Share and Retweet buttons in your WordPress

Hey man, I’m really busy at the moment, but it took me unnecessarily long to get those really hip facebook like, facebook share and retweet buttons everywhere on my blog, so I thought I’d try and save you some time by dropping a quick note on how I did it.

Adding the Facebook Like button functionality wasted the most time, because there are far too many plugins and howtos that claim to work and don’t quite. I ended up using the Like plugin (official wordpress page and plugin website), because it has the best documentation that includes details on all the ways in which things can go wrong, and there are many.  I’m using the IFRAME option, also because that seems to work most of the time.  I had a hard time finding this plugin in the built-in directory, so I downloaded and installed it manually.

For the facebook share button, I use the Facebook Share (New) Button plugin, and for the retweet button, I’m using the Topsy Retweet Button plugin.  I installed both of them from the built-in “Plugins | Add New” directory.

In all three cases, I made use of the plugin options to have the buttons placed all over my blog, instead of manually editing the theme.

I hope that you enjoy your shiny buttons, and I look forward to seeing you for the next Weekly Head Voices!

P.S. feel free to click on my buttons, right below this post.